Mat checked the GPS tracker on the small screen above her head. Just as she crossed over the desired coordinates, she shoved the freshly baited trap from the rail of the boat. The long coil of rope, along with her gray and green buoy, followed quickly behind. She picked up speed and smiled as the wind whipped her short hair. She was having an exceptionally good day.
“I hate to burst your bubble over there, but we’re about full.”
She turned to her cousin Dominic and frowned. “What do you mean?”
“The barrels. They’re full. I mean, you could maybe squeeze a couple more in, but that’s it.”
“No shit?” She glanced over. Even from the opposite side of the boat, she could make out the shells of lobsters pretty close to the water line. “How many traps have we done?”
Dom checked the pad where he tracked both their progress and their catch. “One-thirty.”
They hauled one hundred and fifty of their eight hundred traps each day. In the eleven years she’d captained her own lobster boat, she’d never filled two barrels pulling fewer than a hundred and fifty traps. She’d known they were in a sweet spot today, but she was surprised by how sweet. Pleasantly surprised, but surprised. “Hot damn.”
He looked at her from across the small table that held the banding box. “Does this mean we get to knock off early?”
Mat shook her head and smiled. “It means you’re going to fill some empty bait totes with water. No way are we going to chance leaving full traps on the ocean floor.” Full traps, left for too long, meant the lobsters might start going after each other—never a good thing.
Dom laughed. “I’d complain, but my head is too full of dollar signs.”
“That’s the spirit.” Mat steered them to their next stop. She pulled up alongside the buoy, snagging it with the gaff. She threaded the rope, started the hydraulic lift. A moment later, the trap emerged. She counted nine lobsters inside. She went about inspecting them, throwing back the females and undersized males. Still, five were keepers.
They continued for another hour, filling three of the eight bait totes they’d brought on board. Dom made a notation in his book and smiled. “And that makes one-fifty.”
“Aren’t you glad we kept at it?”
“I am. I always am.”
Mat smiled and started the journey back to shore. She loved a lot of things about working with her cousin. Near the top of that list was the fact that they were nearly identical when it came to work ethic. Dom might grouse from time to time, but they both believed in the mantra “work hard, play hard.” Hauling at the rate they did afforded them one day off each week for bad weather or whatever their hearts desired. The pace was intense, but profitable. And it left just enough time for fun. Mat might take the fun part a little more seriously than Dom, especially since his transition, but he managed to have his share.
Once in the harbor, Mat slowed the engine and steered carefully through the traffic of boats coming and going. Dom texted their uncle and Mat pulled up to their unload spot along the main pier. With the help of the small crane mounted to the pier, they moved their barrels to the waiting Pero Specialty Seafood truck and moved two empty barrels to the boat for the next day. Emilio would deliver their catch, along with that of her uncles and cousins, to restaurants and fish markets in town and to a retailer in Boston.
It was a family business, one that existed long before Mat decided to make her living on the water. Technically, it existed long before she was born. Mat might not see eye-to-eye with her family on all things, but she knew her livelihood was greatly improved by the close-knit nature of it. That included the lessons she got from her father, the boat she was able to purchase from a great uncle, and the well-established family distribution network.
“What about the totes?” Dom asked.
“Give him two. I want to deliver the last one personally.”
Dom gave her a suspicious look. “You working a side hustle, Mattie?” The thick New England accent, paired with the family nickname, was a perfect imitation of their uncle.
“I trust Emilio to sell our catch and give us a fair price. I think he might be a little less skilled in the relationship management arena.”
Dom snorted. “I’ll give you that. Who are you planning to grace with your bounty?”
His suggestive tone made Mat laugh. He knew her well. “Audrey. She’s the executive chef at Osteria 160.”
“Ah. And are you hoping to cultivate a professional relationship or get in her pants?” Dom waved to their uncle, who pulled away to sort and weigh their catch, and Mat navigated the short distance to their slip.
“You say it like those things are mutually exclusive.” At Dom’s judgmental look, she chuckled. “Kidding. We do a little friendly flirting, that’s all.”
He lifted his hands. “Okay, okay. I believe you.” Dom hopped from the boat and started securing the ropes.
“I think I might be able to convince her we’re the perfect compromise between a distributor and buying direct.”
Dom grinned. “If anyone can, it’s you.”
Mat smiled. She’d never give up the time on the water required to handle the distribution side of the business. That didn’t mean she couldn’t help it along every now and then. Especially if the customer in question happened to be a gorgeous local chef.
Graham made her way down the gangplank and onto MacMillan Pier. She’d taken the early shifts all week, which meant, even after two tours, she was done for the day before five. She’d just made it past the Dolphin Fleet sign when she heard her name.
Graham turned in the direction of the voice. It was Charles, her boss, calling at her from the deck of the Dolphin IX. She looked up at him, shielding her eyes from the sun. “Yes?”
“Do you want an extra shift on Monday?”
Graham pulled up a mental picture of her calendar. Technically, Mondays were her only days completely off. But she didn’t mind the work, especially during the busy season. The more hours she spent on whale watches, the fewer she’d have to work doing something else come winter. “Sure.”
“I’m putting you with the intern. You cool with that?”
Graham smiled. Just two summers ago, she’d been the intern. It meant a lot that Charles trusted her to be the senior naturalist on board. “Absolutely.”
He offered her a casual salute, which she returned, then disappeared back into the boat. She walked along the pier, studying the fishing boats and yachts tied up side by side. She’d noticed that before, but never really thought about it. It struck her as odd that they shared the same space. Was that common or something unique to Provincetown?
Her schedule rarely coincided with the comings and goings of the fishermen. The tides must have been just right, though, because a number of boats appeared to be unloading the day’s catch. She slowed her pace to watch as bins of fish and barrels filled with lobster were hoisted via a makeshift crane from boat to pier, probably on their way to restaurants just down the street to be cooked up and served the next day.
Her budget didn’t allow for a lot of fresh seafood, but maybe she could justify a trip to the fish market. If she sprang for a couple of lobsters, she might even convince Aunt Nora to do the steaming. Graham sighed at the thought of fresh lobster, dipped in drawn butter.
Her gastronomic daydream was cut short by the appearance of a woman she’d not seen before, standing on the deck of one of the fishing boats. She wore a black tank top and faded gray work pants. Her jet black hair was cut short and the deep bronze of her skin looked like more than just a tan. She handed bins to a guy with similar features, who stacked them along one side of the boat.
Graham realized her mouth was hanging open. She quickly closed it. She bit her lip and stared. Wow.
As if sensing the attention, the woman looked her way. Graham could tell she had dark eyes, even from such a distance. The kind of eyes that felt infinite.
Graham knew she should look away, but she found herself transfixed. The woman paused long enough to offer Graham a slow smile. Not the kind of friendly smile Graham usually exchanged with people she passed on the pier, the kind of smile that made tourists feel welcome or the kind residents and workers shared amongst themselves. No, this smile had more of a come-home-with-me energy. Or at least it felt that way to Graham.
Just as quickly as the moment began, it ended. The woman returned to her work and Graham was left standing in the middle of the sidewalk with a goofy smile on her face. She barely resisted a face palm. With more intention than before, she strode toward Commercial Street and away from making a complete idiot of herself.
She was just at the point where pier met dry land when she ran into Will coming the other way. They wore matching Dolphin Fleet polo shirts, although Will paired hers with cargo shorts and Graham went for more feminine capris. “Hey, Will.”
Will flashed a smile. “Hey back. How have I not seen you in almost a week?”
Graham shrugged playfully. “I hear you’ve been busy.”
“Stop.” Will blushed, then frowned. “I mean it. I miss you.”
“I was teasing. We’ve just been working opposite shifts.”
“Right.” Will closed her eyes for a second and shook her head. “Sorry.”
Although her friend Will and her Aunt Nora had been together for over a year, Will had only officially moved into the inn with Nora a few weeks ago. Graham was pretty sure they were still in the honeymoon phase of that, a fact that made Will hilariously shy. “I was just thinking of inviting myself over for dinner.”
“I’m sure Nora would love to see you, even more than I would. I can check her schedule and I’ll get back to you with a couple of dates.”
“Excellent. Ask her if she’ll cook lobster if I bring it.”
Will laughed. “If she doesn’t want to, I will.”
Will glanced at her watch. “I have to go.”
Graham waved a hand. “Sorry, sorry. Didn’t mean to make you late. Text me.”
Will resumed walking down the pier. “I will.”
Graham turned to watch Will board the boat she’d just left. Once she was out of sight, Graham allowed her gaze to drift back to the lobster boat. The boat remained but the woman was gone. Graham tried not to notice the stab of disappointment.
Maybe she’d take a little stroll back down the pier. Even if she didn’t see the woman again, she could check out the boat, see if it was local or just passing through. Graham made a point of studying each of the boats she passed. Some were old and some were new. A few had been designed for play, but most had the scuffed paint and piles of rope and mechanical equipment that indicated a working vessel.
As she approached the one with the mystery woman, Graham walked past it quickly, afraid the woman might reappear and catch her staring. At the end of the pier, she spent a moment looking out at the breakwater. She breathed in the salt air and let the sun beat down on her face. Gorgeous woman or not, Graham couldn’t imagine a single place on earth she’d rather be.
She made her way back toward the boat slowly, searching for signs of life, but also details that might tell her more about its crew. It looked to be about twenty feet long, with three walls and a covered area instead of a fully enclosed cabin. The deck had been hosed and scrubbed clean and the white paint on the outside looked like it had been applied this season. Across the transom, in dark burgundy paint, she read Paquette, Provincetown, MA.
Graham swallowed the flutter of excitement. The boat was local. That might mean her crew was, too.
“Dom, are you there?”
The sound of a voice—a rich, deep, yet utterly female voice—sent Graham scurrying. She didn’t slow down until she reached Commercial Street. Nor did she look back.
Rather than turning left toward home, Graham made a right. Maybe she’d pop by Aunt Nora’s for a bit now. She’d be in the middle of happy hour, but that was okay. Graham had nowhere to be. She could make herself useful or relax in the garden. Then she and Aunt Nora could catch up and she could sweet talk her way into that lobster dinner.
Mat stopped at home long enough to take a shower. She didn’t want to seem like she was trying, but she also didn’t want to walk in smelling like diesel and bait. She put on a pair of dark jeans and a black button-down, her favorite boots, just a touch of paste in her hair.
It was taking a chance, but she drove to the restaurant, and pulled her truck into the spot reserved for deliveries. She was, after all, delivering something. She took the tote from the back of her truck, careful to hold it away from herself, and headed to the back door.
Preparations for dinner service were well underway, but the kitchen lacked the frenetic pace of the dinner rush. Mat snagged the attention of a guy slicing lemons. “Do you know if Audrey is here?”
He nodded. “She’s out front going over specials with the waitstaff.”
Mat frowned, unsure of how long that would take, or if she should wait. Before she could decide, the door from the dining room swung open and Audrey came through. Her white chef’s coat fit like it had been tailored for her curves. As did the black pants. Rather than detracting from the look, the rubber clogs left no doubt she meant business in the kitchen. She looked in Mat’s direction and smiled. “Well, hello, stranger.”
“Stranger? Is that any way to talk to someone who comes bearing gifts?”
Audrey’s eyes sparkled. “A present? What did you bring me?”
Mat set the tote on an unused square of counter and flipped open the lid. “The freshest catch in town.”
Audrey peered inside. “Did these come in today?”
Mat smiled. In addition to being gorgeous, Audrey had a keen appreciation for Mat’s line of work. “I hauled them myself.”
She watched as Audrey did a quick count and, likely, estimate of their weight. “What did I do to deserve such an offering?”
“It’s what I know you’ll do with them that matters.”
Audrey narrowed her eyes, but her tone remained playful. “Are you after dinner or a date?”
It was almost too easy. “I’d never say no to either, but at the moment, I’m here with a business proposition.”
“Oh?” Audrey raised a brow and Mat couldn’t tell if she was intrigued or disappointed.
“We both know you’re one of the hottest new spots in town. On top of that, you’re elevating local seafood to a new level.” Mat lifted a hand. “Not that I have anything against lobster rolls.”
The rich, sultry sound of Audrey’s laugh made Mat wonder if maybe she should angle for the date instead of the business. “I should warn you that, unlike most chefs, my ego isn’t running the show.”
Mat grinned. “I’m only calling it as I see it. And as I see it, we should be partners.”
“Tell me more.”
Mat leaned against the counter. “You need a more consistent supply of fresh lobster than one person can provide.”
“But going through a wholesaler means you’re paying a middle man. On top of that, you don’t know exactly where or how your product was caught.”
Audrey nodded. “Also true.”
“Pero and Sons can offer you the best of both worlds.”
A guy in an apron brushed past them with a crate of vegetables. Audrey nodded. “I want to hear more, but I’ve got a hundred things to do before dinner service starts.”
“Don’t let me keep you. Maybe we could grab drinks one night after your shift.”
Audrey quirked a brow. “I didn’t realize lobstermen stayed up that late.”
Mat tipped her head slightly. “We just need a good enough reason.”
“Should I feel honored to be on that list?”
Mat smirked, then nodded at the tote. “You enjoy those. I’ll stop back in a couple of days to pick up the bin and you can tell me about all the delicious things you made.”
Audrey looked Mat up and down. “I’ll look forward to it.”
Mat left the way she’d come, climbing into her truck, and making the short drive home. Tomorrow wasn’t a day off, but since she’d gone to the trouble of getting dressed, she considered going out for a drink or two. A quick text exchange later, she’d wrangled Dom into joining her.
Since he’d only requested a few minutes to get ready, Mat stood in the driveway of the building where they each had an apartment. She leaned against her truck and let her mind wander. But instead of Audrey, Mat’s thoughts went to the woman from earlier in the day, the one she’d caught staring at her from the pier.
Even from a distance, Mat could tell she was beautiful. The strawberry blond hair and blue eyes gave her a look that seemed to hover somewhere between all-American girl and Irish beauty—striking, but in an innocent, almost unassuming way. Mat wondered if she lived in town or was just passing through.
Dom appeared at the top of the back stairs and waved. When he reached the bottom, he raised a brow. “So, how’d it go?”
Mat nodded. “Good. We didn’t really get to talk, but she seemed impressed with what I had to offer.”
Dom chuckled. “Again, I’m not sure if we’re talking about you or lobsters.”
Normally, she’d go back and forth with him, topping one another’s double entendres until they crossed the line into the ridiculous. For some reason, tonight she didn’t. “I think we might be able to get her as a regular.”
Dom narrowed his eyes, but didn’t comment on the directness of her answer. “That would be really great.”
It would be. There were only a couple of restaurants they supplied exclusively. Those relationships, the confidence they implied, were like a feather in her cap. Even better, the more they sold locally, the higher the profit margin. “Don’t say anything to Uncle Emilio yet. I’d like it to be a done deal before he swoops in.”
They started the stroll into town, debating between the beer garden and the After Tea Dance. As they walked down Commercial, Mat scanned the faces they passed. The diverse press of people that spilled into town during the day had thinned, leaving a crowd that was predominantly queer. That was why she liked evenings best.
She found herself looking for the woman. It surprised Mat she’d invaded her mind to that extent, given they’d not even spoken to one another. It didn’t bother her, though. Whether she ever saw her again or not, appreciating a beautiful woman was one of her favorite pastimes. Sharing a moment of mutual appreciation was its own pleasure.
Graham walked along Commercial Street with her roommate, Jess. Aunt Nora had been exceptionally busy, so Graham made plans for dinner the following week and bid her good night. She’d headed home, feeling mildly restless. She’d readily accepted Jess’s invitation for a walk and a slice of pizza. Not only would that provide a nice diversion, it meant she didn’t need to think about cooking.
“You seem distracted.”
“Huh?” Graham looked at Jess.
“Exactly. I said you looked distracted.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess. A little.”
“What’s on your mind, sunshine?” Jess studied her with concern.
“Nothing bad. I just saw this crazy hot woman earlier and I was thinking about her.”
“Crazy hot, huh? Tell me more.”
Graham shrugged. “I’d just left work and was walking along the pier, looking at the boats. And there she was, looking rugged and sexy. I kid you not, I stood there with my mouth hanging open like a complete idiot.”
“Did she look back?”
Graham thought back to the brief interaction, to the way her body responded. “Yeah.”
“And? Did you talk to her?”
“God, no. We exchanged a look. Fortunately, after I managed to pick my tongue up off the sidewalk.”
Jess gave her a look of complete exasperation. “Why didn’t you introduce yourself, make a little friendly conversation?”
“She was working. On top of that, I’d just gotten off work. Not my best look.” It had nothing to do with being a tongue-tied, blushing mess.
“But what if you never see her again?”
Graham tried to ignore the pang of disappointment the idea created. “It’s not like it was love at first sight or anything.” She offered a playful shrug. “Lust, maybe.”
Jess shook her head. “Haven’t you spent the last six months lamenting your lack of a love life? You can’t just ignore opportunities that fall into your lap. You must act.”
Graham laughed at the vehemence in Jess’s tone. But then she let the words sink in. She’d never been the forward one in dating scenarios. Well, aside from her clumsy and ill-fated attempt to hook up with Will, which had crashed and burned. Things had all worked out for the best, obviously, but it certainly hadn’t helped her confidence on that front. “I don’t think I’m cut out to be the aggressor.”
“Nonsense. And it’s not about being the aggressor. It’s about putting yourself out there, making it easy for the other person to make the first move.”
Graham had a vision of herself wandering up and down the pier in a dress and heels, waiting—quite literally—for her ship to come in. It wasn’t a pretty picture. “I’m not sure that applies in this situation.”
“Sure it does. You just have to figure out a way to make sure you cross paths again. Do you think she lives in town?”
“Maybe. The boat’s local.”
“That’s a good sign. Is she our age? Do you think she goes out?”
“You know, I have no idea.” She had a hard time picturing the woman at a bar or in a club, but maybe that was unfair. A Dolphin Fleet uniform and being surrounded by little kids probably seemed incongruous with the kind of girl who liked to go out, too. Graham tried to envision the woman in a dim space, drink in hand, surrounded by people. From there, it wasn’t hard to imagine what it might be like to dance with her. The woman’s hand on her lower back, guiding their bodies in synchronous movement. “Oh, my God.”
“What?” Jess looked at her with alarm.
“She’s right there.”
Jess looked around. “Where?”
“On the patio of the beer place. Don’t look.”
Of course Jess looked. “Who? Which one? Oh, wait.”
Before she could continue the conversation and embarrass them both, Graham pulled her friend past the restaurant and out of the woman’s line of sight. “Are you trying to kill me?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Relax. We’re not trading state secrets here.” Jess leaned back and glanced in the direction they’d just passed. “Short dark hair, black shirt?”
Graham closed her eyes and nodded. “Mmm-hmm.”
“She is hot. Like, really fucking hot.”
“You have to talk to her.” Jess placed exceptional emphasis on the “have.”
Jess spread her hands in front of her. “No, next week. Of course now.”
Graham dared to lean back so she could catch a glimpse of the woman. She was deep in conversation with the guy next to her, the same guy from the boat. She let her gaze linger for a moment. The jeans and button-down shirt were casually sexy and answered any question Graham might have had about whether she was the type to go out on the town. Although, truth be told, Graham couldn’t decide which of the two looks appealed to her more. She reluctantly returned her gaze to Jess. “I don’t know.”
“Well, I do. We’re going to march in there, grab a drink, and just so happen to find ourselves right next to them.”
Graham nodded, her stomach suddenly filled with butterflies. “Then what?”
“Then you make eye contact and smile. She’ll smile back. And then you’ll say, ‘Hey, didn’t I see you on the pier earlier?’ It’s not rocket science.”
“I know it’s not.” She might not have a ton of experience making moves, but she wasn’t completely socially inept. Something about this woman had an effect on her. The kind of effect that made her worried she’d turn into a blushing, blubbering fool if the woman actually spoke to her. But it seemed like the universe might be telling her something, or even better, giving her a gift. She didn’t want to waste it. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
Jess rubbed her hands together with delight, which made Graham laugh. “Follow me.”
Graham did, being careful not to look in the woman’s direction and run the risk of losing her nerve. They went inside to the bar and she let Jess order them both a pint of apricot wheat. “Drinks are on me,” Graham said.
“No argument here.”
Graham slid money across the bar. They picked up their glasses and headed to the patio that faced Commercial. It was a fairly big space, so it took them a moment to wind through the groups of people standing at the high-top tables. When they got to the right spot, it was empty.
“Where’d they go?” Jess looked back the way they’d come.
Graham glanced up and down the street and saw the back of the woman, along with her friend, heading to the West End. She nudged Jess’s shoulder and pointed. “There.”
And then they were gone. Disappointment vied with relief. “It’s okay.”
Jess hung her head. “I can’t believe we missed them.”
“Yeah.” Graham took a long sip of her beer and set it down. “But you know what?”
Jess did the same. “What?”
“If she changed her clothes and was out having a beer, that’s a pretty good indication she lives here.”
Jess raised her hands in celebration. “Yes. You’re right. We just need to create opportunity for you to run into her again.”
Graham took another sip of beer. “She was with the guy I saw on the boat. Maybe they’re together.”
“Highly unlikely. There were all kinds of studly lesbian vibes coming off her.”
Graham sighed. She hoped so. “They did look kind of similar. Maybe they’re related.”
“Absolutely. The lobster boat is probably a family business.” Jess nodded and she continued formulating her theory. “I bet she’s part of an old Portuguese fishing family who’s been here for generations.”
“You’re probably right.” Graham liked the idea of that. It sounded so romantic. It also increased her chances of seeing the woman again. Now that she was looking. The prospect of flirtation, and maybe more, lifted her spirits. “Hey, do you want to splurge on dinner here instead of pizza?”
Jess grinned. “I love the way you think.” She lifted her glass. “Here’s to the thrill of pursuit.”
“I’m not sure I’d go that far, but cheers all the same.” Graham clinked her glass to Jess’s, then picked up a menu.
Graham carried the ice chest, trying to ignore the thwapping that came from inside. For the tenth time, she reminded herself that lobsters don’t have a central nervous system. Short of being a full vegetarian, cooking and eating lobster was about as humane as it got.
The next thwap caused the cooler to shift in her hand. She swallowed the squeal that bubbled up. Barely.
She let herself in the side gate that led to Aunt Nora’s garden and the back door of the inn. She set the cooler at the bottom of the porch steps and headed into the house. She found Tisha in the kitchen, singing and arranging cheese on a large wooden board. She spotted Graham and smiled. “Hey, girl. I haven’t seen you in forever.”
Graham crossed the room and gave her a hug. “It feels that way, doesn’t it? How’s it going?”
“Well, other than living in the middle of a honeymoon, I’m great.” Tisha rolled her eyes, but laughed.
Graham smiled at the description. If someone had told her a year ago that her aunt would be blissfully happy with a live-in girlfriend—who happened to be Graham’s friend—she’d have scoffed. And yet, here they were. Her unrequited crush on Will felt like a distant memory. “That bad, huh?”
Tisha shook her head. “It’s adorable. I just feel it’s my right to tease Nora about it.”
Tisha was the summer manager at Failte, and one of Aunt Nora’s closest friends. When Will and Nora had temporarily split, Tisha was Graham’s biggest ally in nudging them to get back together. Graham put an arm around Tisha and gave her a squeeze. “It’s your right and your responsibility. Aunt Nora needs to remember it’s not good to be so damn stubborn.”
At the sound of Nora’s voice, both Graham and Tisha turned. Nora stood in the doorway to the dining room, a look of mild curiosity on her face. Without missing a beat, Tisha said, “You.”
Nora nodded and shrugged, making Graham snicker. “We were discussing how blissfully happy you are now that Will has moved in.”
Rather than protest, Nora’s face softened and she smiled. “It’s so much more practical, not to mention economical.”
“Economical?” Tisha stuck her tongue in her cheek. “Is that what the kids are calling it these days?”
Graham couldn’t suppress another snicker. Nora gave Tisha a bland look. “Really?”
Tisha picked up the board she’d been arranging when Graham arrived. “This is ready to go out.”
Nora accepted it and turned to leave. Before she pushed through the swinging door back into the dining room, she said, “I wonder sometimes why I like you.”
Unfazed by the insult, Tisha laughed and called after her, “You and me both, woman.”
When she’d gone, Graham turned her attention back to Tisha. “Are you joining us for dinner? I brought four lobsters in case.”
Tisha offered her a warm smile. “It’s sweet you thought of me, but I got plans of my own.”
Tisha raised a brow. “I might have met one of the new cooks at the Lobster Pot.”
“Is he good looking or did he offer to make you dinner?”
Tisha’s eyes gleamed. “Girl, what makes you think it’s not both?”
“I should have expected nothing less. We’ll miss you, but I’m glad it’s for such a good reason.” Graham looked around the kitchen. “Is there anything I can help with?”
“No, you take a drink and go relax.”
Graham eyed the pitcher of sangria that had yet to be put out for happy hour. “You don’t have to tell me twice.”
She poured herself a glass and headed to the backyard, figuring most of the inn’s guests would congregate on the front porch and in the sitting room. She picked one of the benches in the shade and made herself comfortable. The garden was in full bloom. Graham inhaled deeply, appreciating the fragrance as much as the flash of color. She closed her eyes and let out a contented sigh.
It took less than ten seconds for the image of the lobsterwoman to fill her brain. For the last few days, Graham had made a point of wandering the pier before and after her shifts. A couple of times, she even used her lunch hour to try and catch a glimpse of the Paquette and its sexy captain. She’d succeeded three times. Two of those times, the woman had looked her way. Both times, she offered the same easy, knowing smile.
Graham opened her eyes and huffed out a breath. Her worst fear was to spend the rest of the season half admiring, half stalking this woman, and never even learning her name. But it seemed unlikely the woman would leave her boat to talk to Graham. If only she could run into her somewhere else. Neutral territory, ideally with Graham wearing something nicer than her Dolphin Fleet polo shirt and a pair of khakis.
“Why do you look so perturbed?” Will stood near the side gate, a look of concern on her face.
“I’m not perturbed.” She wasn’t. Mildly frustrated, maybe.
“Could have fooled me.” Will, dressed in her own Dolphin Fleet uniform, angled her head and met Graham’s gaze.
“Do you know that I’ve lived in Provincetown for over a year, not to mention the whole summer before that, and I haven’t hooked up with a single woman that whole time?”
“Do you want a hookup?”
Graham sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe? I want to do something. I’ve had exactly two dates. No girlfriend. No action. None.”
Without waiting for an invitation, Will sat next to her on the bench. “I hear you.”
“It just feels a bit pathetic, to be in a town teeming with lesbians, completely celibate.”
Will nodded. “I felt the same when I first moved here, even knowing I was just out of a relationship and needed to regroup.”
“Yeah, I’m grouped. I’d like someone to come and,” she waved her hands back and forth, “muss me up.”
Will chuckled at the description. “Is this a general feeling you’re having or has someone stirred your pot?”
It seemed ridiculous to confess her pseudo-obsession with a woman she’d never actually spoken to. And, really, this woman only stirred up feelings that had been there all along. “General, I’d say.”
Will narrowed her eyes. “Really?”
She appreciated that Will knew her well enough not to take everything she said at face value. “I happened upon an exceptionally hot woman the other day. She may have brought things to the surface.”
“Who is she? Do I know her?”
“I doubt it. She works on one of the lobster boats that moor at MacMillan Pier.”
Will folded her arms and leaned forward. “Oh, a townie. Intriguing. Tell me more.”
“There’s not much to tell. I saw her. She’s hot. That’s about it.”
“Have you spoken to her? Do you know if she’s local? Is it her boat or does she just work on it?”
“We’ve not spoken, so I know nothing. I’m not even sure how I’d initiate a conversation.” Graham thought about Jess’s many and varied ideas for doing so.
Will looked at the sky. “How about, ‘Hi, I was admiring your boat. Do you come here often?’”
Graham snorted. “Okay, that is truly terrible.”
Will shrugged. “Do you have something better?”
Graham let her shoulders slump. “No.”
“Well, maybe beggars shouldn’t be choosers.”
“Maybe we could not use the term beggar to talk about my love life.”
Will leaned over, bumping her shoulder against Graham’s. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. I’m feeling pretty awkward and pathetic already. Beggar isn’t much of a leap.”
“I was kidding. You’re lovely.” Will looked at her earnestly.
“And beautiful and smart and a total catch.”
“And single.” She paused between each word for extra emphasis.
Will frowned and Graham could see that she was truly worried. Graham made a point of smiling. She squeezed Will’s leg. “It’s okay. I’m being dramatic.”
Will sighed heavily. “No, I understand how you feel. It’s hard.”
Graham shook her head. She did not want to wallow. “It’s not that bad. I’m not looking to get married or anything. I’m twenty-five. I’ve got time for that. Maybe you’re right and I should just put myself out there a little more.”
Will perked up. “That’s the spirit. Talk to your lobsterwoman.”
“You could also—” Will’s suggestion was interrupted by Nora calling to them. Will said, “We’re out here.”
Before Nora had a chance to join them, Graham placed a hand on Will’s arm. “Can we keep this between us?”
Will offered a knowing nod. “Of course.”
“How’s the party?” Graham asked as Nora approached.
“In full swing. Six of them are teacher friends. Who knew teachers were such party animals?”
“I’m not surprised.” Will stood and gave Nora a kiss. “I bet teachers are excellent at relaxing.”
Graham laughed at the idea. “They’d have to be, right?”
“Can I help with anything?” Will asked, sliding an arm around Nora’s waist.
“Not a thing. The food is under control and my guests are so chatty with each other, I didn’t even hesitate to sneak away to come search for you two.”
“Aunt Nora, are you playing hooky?” Graham opened her eyes wide and used her most scandalized voice.
Nora straightened her shoulders and tossed her hair. “I am exploring a more relaxed management style.”
“I see.” Graham bit the inside of her cheek and tried to decide if it was okay to laugh. A peek at Will and the serious look on her face told her maybe not. “Well, I think it’s great. And everything about a stay at Failte is so perfect, I can’t imagine your guests will mind one bit, if they even notice.”
Nora folded her arms. “You can say it. I have a tendency to overdo.”
Graham shook her head. She knew better. “Nope. I know no such thing.”
Nora’s expression turned to one of playful exasperation. “You didn’t hesitate to make your feelings known when I broke my arm last year, or when you decided to meddle in my love life.”
Now it was Graham’s turn to be exasperated. “You’re really going to complain about that?”
Nora turned her head and planted a kiss on Will’s cheek. “Not one bit.”
“Okay, then. Did you two decide who’s going to cook the lobsters I bought us?”
Will raised a hand. “Nora made dessert, so it’s all me.”
Graham smiled. “I love teamwork.”
It was just after seven when the last of Nora’s guests cleared out for dinners or shows or walks along the beach. Tisha was long gone. Will took charge in the kitchen, insisting she had everything under control. She wasn’t squeamish, but Graham had no problem at all being far, far away when the lobsters went into the pot. She helped Nora set the table out in the garden, in part because it was a lovely night and in part because it would make cleanup a lot easier.
Will came out with potatoes, corn, and three small bowls of drawn butter. She made a second trip for the main course. Nora opened a sauvignon blanc. Before long, they were seated together, each with a huge lobster tail in front of them. They took turns with the kitchen shears, snipping the shell up one side and down the other. Graham pitched her shell into the bucket at her feet and smiled at the plump, succulent meat in front of her. “Thanks for cooking.”
“I think we’re the ones thanking you,” Will said, raising her glass.
“Agreed.” Nora dipped a forkful into the butter. “This is lovely and indulgent.”
Graham thought about the lobsterwoman, wondered if she regularly enjoyed her catch like this. For the first time since the woman had taken up residence in her mind, Graham considered that she might have a wife. Or girlfriend. Or husband. Good God, please don’t let her have a husband. That would make her unattainable and mean Graham’s instincts were way off. She shook her head, forcing the thoughts away. “I’m glad we get to be lovely and indulgent together.”
After dinner, Nora brought out a perfect looking lemon tart. Despite being beyond full, Graham had a slice. She knew how much butter went into it. Even with that knowledge, she convinced herself it was a refreshing, if not light, way to end the meal.
They lingered outside until the sun began to set. The air took on a chill and Graham wished she’d brought a sweater. As if sensing her thoughts, Nora offered her one. She accepted it with thanks and a promise to return it in the next couple of days. After hugs and numerous promises to do it again soon, with or without lobster, Graham wished them good night.
As she walked along Bradford Street, Graham thought about Will and Nora, tidying the kitchen, deciding on a movie to watch before bed. She was happy for them, truly. But the mild desire she’d mentioned to Will earlier had grown into a persistent longing. She needed to break out of the rut she’d inadvertently found herself in, whether it was with the striking woman from the lobster boat or not.